Walking by people who were focused on staring straight ahead, determined not to make eye contact, or contact of any sort, made for a long journey to my destination as I walked down a busy street in my neighbourhood recently. Such a different experience to that of just a few short weeks ago…
I remember growing up in an age when you could walk down the street and say hello to fellow pedestrians passing by and be greeted in-like. I also sadly recall when my greetings began to be rejected with looks of distrust. Too many people have turned inwards, not to embrace who they are, but to shut out those they fear. Those few short weeks ago I had travelled to Ireland, and once more, I embraced the conjovial atmosphere of the Irish. “Céad míle fáilte,” A Hundred Thousand Welcomes. The Irish have not yet lost the urge to smile and greet strangers. I hope they never do.
So what exactly is the power of a smile, that facial expression of hello? In my culture, at least, a smile denotes happiness and sociability and is a welcomed gesture. Receiving a smile can literally brighten one’s day, boost one’s self-esteem or melt a heart. Giving a smile does much the same, imparting relaxation into one’s very being. Try smiling and staying uptight, try smiling and staying angry…it just doesn’t work.
A smile that comes from the heart, with sincerity, cannot help but release feelings of tension and negativity. A smile can help us connect to the soul of another as it leads to the breaking down of barriers; leading our gaze upwards from the mouth, to the eyes. It helps us acknowledge another being, providing validation of their existence.
I used to have a dog, a Golden Retriever, who was a “smiler.” His lips would curl to the top of his muzzle, almost meeting in the centre, his exuberance being that strong when he would greet me. I still delight in encountering dogs who are smilers…such purity in the simple display of their joy in greeting you. No inhibitions, no judgements. Just pure abandon of emotions. One cannot help but feel better after such an encounter.
It is amazing how a dog can break down barriers between strangers…how readily we will smile and talk to a dog, which then leads to a conversation with the owner. In my previous neighbourhood, where I lived for 20 years, the majority of new friendships evolved through ownership of my dog. What a blessing that was.
One of my favourite public speakers was the late Leo Busgaglia, known affectionately as The Hugger. Leo would unabashedly greet strangers on his path, receiving mixed responses, but he never let up. He was determined to “share the love” that was in his heart. I’ve taken a leaf from Leo’s book of life and not only smiled at strangers, that one has always come easily for me, but I’ve taken it up a “Leo” notch…I’ve complimented strangers on their dress or hairstyle, just as he had been known to do, and been rewarded by their shocked, yet appreciative, “thanks…!” I like to think that Leo would be proud.
I hope you will go through each day with a smile on your face, offering your fellow human beings the gift of your positive energy. You never know who’s day you just might turn around. It might even be yours…